The 3-Step Plan to Break Your Sugar Habit

Got a sweet tooth? See how to break your addiction to sugar.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you know how hard it can be to break the sugar habit — from a donut to get you through a hectic morning to candy during the late afternoon lull, it’s all too easy to indulge. But if you think the problem is a lack of willpower, you’re wrong: In fact, it's your body’s job to keep you addicted to sugar.

Fortunately, there’s a way to break your yearning for sugar. This three-step plan, developed by psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who specializes in the complicated relationships people develop with food, will help you cut your cravings and quit overdoing it on sugar once and for all. 

Why Your Brain Is Keeping You Addicted to Sugar

Your brain is hardwired to see sugar as a good source of energy. After all, when our ancestors picked berries, “sweet” ones were ripe, while “sour” or “bitter” berries meant poison. And while you may not remember the very first piece of cake you ate, your brain does. 

When you eat sugar, your brain sends pleasure signals, which encourage you to eat more sugar to get the reward. The more sugar you eat, the more you want! With this plan, you can rewire the reward system that’s working against you, so that you no longer crave sugar. 

The Three-Step Plan 

Dr. Ramani’s plan has a realistic approach: Instead of going cold turkey, this three-step plan gradually eases you off sugar and trains your taste buds to enjoy things that aren’t as sweet.

Step 1: Eliminate All “Timed” Sugars: 

During this first week, you’ll remove the rituals that fuel the sugar habit: your morning pastry, afternoon cookie and after-dinner dessert. Like with any addiction, a step-down is best. That way, you can wean yourself off of sugar without experiencing common side effects, such as headaches and irritability. This gradual approach prevents sugar shock.

Step 2: Add Sugar Replacements: 

Now that you’ve removed the “timed sugars,” your goal for the second week is to trick your taste buds with sugar-mimicking foods. Mornings are crucial for this step. That’s because if you’ve eaten badly before bed, you’ll up crashing. You’ll crave sugar — especially if you’ve had a rough night’s sleep, and your body is looking for a quick, easy source of energy. Instead, start your day with a sugar-free smoothie.

For a snack, try naturally sweetened popcorn made with cocoa powder as a replacement for your usual sugar-laden treats. Or, try this trick: Sprinkle some salt on your fruit. Doing this enhances the natural fruit sugars, since salt heightens the sweet taste of things that are already sweet and also cuts the tart taste. (Don’t overdo the salt; you don’t want to replace a sugar habit with a salt one. But having a piece of fruit with salt on it is a better option than a mid-afternoon candy bar.)

Tip: Don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, since that will keep the cycle going — and make it even worse.

Step 3: Create a New Kind of Cookie Jar: 

Congratulations! Now that you’ve made it to week three, it’s time to find substitute activities to replace eating sweets. Cut a piece of paper into 20 pieces, and write down an activity you want to do on each scrap of paper. As well, use scraps of paper to write down the names of friends. Stick all of them into a jar. The next time you feel a sugar-craving hit, reach in and grab a piece of paper. You can either do the activity or call the friend. Here are some examples of activities to get you started:

  • Take a long soak in the tub
  • Read a novel
  • Go on Facebook
  • Play Words with Friends
  • Take a walk

So many of us eat when we feel alone and disconnected from the world — this cookie jar makes you reconnect with people and yourself, filling the void that wants something sweet. Best of all, it doesn’t cost you a single calorie. 

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